“Eloquent speech is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart.” ~ William Jennings Bryan
From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, William Jennings Bryan was the driving force behind the populist wing of the Democratic Party. He was the Democrats’ candidate for President of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908. Although he lost all three times (that’s something I can relate to), Bryan spoke from the heart and captured the soul of the modern Democratic Party.
Over the last several months, I’ve had the privilege to speak at community gatherings, corporate partnership meetings, San Jose State University, Gavilan Community College, and local high schools. Each one of these opportunities has been a humbling experience as audiences have inspired me to speak from the heart about my passions: leadership, education, and second chances.
If your organization or event planners are looking for a speaker who inspires audiences with heartfelt, amusing, and compelling stories, check out my speaking services.
I tailor each talk to engage your audience by drawing on stories about life growing up in a working-class neighborhood and sharing insights from over 25-years as a corporate executive, school board president, community leader, and high school and junior college basketball coach.
A few weeks after the shortness of breath episode in Long Beach, while sitting in a plane that was descending into San Antonio International Airport, I again struggled to catch my breath. I felt fine the rest of the trip, but made an appointment with my doctor when I returned home. The doctor checked my vital signs, administered an electrocardiogram (EKG) test, and a cardiac stress test, which consists of the patient walking on a treadmill to determine if blood is flowing correctly through the heart during physical exertion.
I passed all of the exams without difficulty, relieved that I wasn’t suffering from the same fate as my parents and my sister. The doctor explained that I might have issues related to anxiety as the symptoms are similar, but far less intense, to those of a heart attack. I was ultimately diagnosed with a form of anxiety that causes a rapid heartbeat, sweating, chest pain, nausea, and numbness. The disorder can be hereditary or caused by environmental factors such as stressful life events and life transitions.
For nearly a year, I had been masking the grief of my mom’s loss by working incessantly and grappling with some of my siblings on settling the estate. Doctors were sure that my episodes were not the result of genetics. They were caused by the life-changing events related to my mom. The doctors assured me that I could manage my condition by participating in a few group and individual sessions with a therapist, and taking small doses of anxiety medication.
I took stock of my life, and like everything else I did, I put all my being into the treatment to quickly resolve the issues. Despite the scare, I returned to my hectic schedule. Armed with the tools to manage the void caused by my mom’s passing, I focused my energy to finally disposing of the failure demons and achieving professional success once and for all. Determined to move up in the company, I worked harder at the office, continued representing Comcast at national Latino events, and dedicated precious extra time to making an impression on corporate honchos at the Executive Leadership Forum.
In 2005, my leadership forum teammates selected me to present our group project to the chairman of the board and the company’s top executives. My presentation was a hit. Before long, opportunities to demonstrate my talents and commitment to the company came quickly and regularly. I soon had the chance to make a big contribution on a national conference call with corporate bigwigs. I offered to help Comcast secure a franchise in Houston, Texas, by introducing top company executives to the vice mayor of the fourth largest city in the country.
Houston’s vice mayor was an emerging national Latina leader who I met during my travels on behalf of the company. I scheduled a lunch meeting and traveled to Houston to make the introduction personally. After months of negotiations, Comcast won the contract with the vice mayor’s support. That summer, I was chosen to lead a meeting in Washington, D.C. with the chairman of the company and a high-ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee with whom I had a solid working relationship.
The veteran California congresswoman’s wood-paneled office had a high ceiling, luxurious drapes, and photos of her with our nation’s leaders. California and American flags framed her large oak desk. The office was bigger than the first apartment Sandra and I lived in when we got married. During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think about how far I had come from the simple days at 48 Viewmont Avenue, the college failure, the dark years of aimlessly wandering through life, and the triumphant return to and graduation from San Jose State University.
A few months later, I stood at the podium of the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas, to deliver brief comments on behalf of Comcast to a thousand Latino elected officials from throughout the country at the annual NALEO conference. It was the same gathering that, as a green and impressionable political staffer, inspired me to forge a career in politics nearly a decade earlier. By the fall of 2006, I had been named vice president of local government affairs for Comcast in California.
As vice president, I developed and managed the company’s local government relations initiatives and continued with my travels. Business trips included regular drives throughout California to visit and meet with the eight government affairs directors who reported to me. I also played a role as a company representative at political events across the state. On one such occasion, Marisa went with me to a fundraising event at the Los Altos Hills estate of a Silicon Valley executive where former President Bill Clinton was the featured speaker.
I beamed with pride when Marisa, just 12 years old, recognized and introduced herself to Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Marisa shook President Clinton’s hand and we arranged a photo with Speaker Pelosi. It’s impossible to accurately portray how it felt that day to provide my daughter with the opportunity to meet a U.S. President and House Speaker. The failure demons that haunted me for so long were gradually fading away.
Blogger’s note: This is the 23rd installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
By mid-year, the senior VP in California informed me that I had been selected, at his recommendation, to participate in the exclusive Comcast Executive Leadership Forum class of 2004. The Executive Leadership Forum was by invitation only, and the corporate chitchat was that those who completed the program were soon sitting in executive chairs. Just as my professional prospects were looking up, my personal life took a downturn.
In March 2003, my sister Patty, just forty-nine years old, suddenly died from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by an infection from a virus. She started the year with what seemed like a bad cold that appeared to lead to bronchitis and pneumonia, but doctors couldn’t clearly identify the problem and decided to do exploratory surgery. The morning of her surgery I called Patty to wish her luck and told her that Sandra and I would make the four hour drive to her home in Bakersfield to see her when she emerged from the operating room. That was the last conversation I had with my sister.
During surgery, the doctors confirmed that she had myocarditis and that her heart was so weak that she would need a heart transplant immediately. A suitable heart was found at the UCLA Medical Center, just a short one hour helicopter flight to Los Angeles. The doctors first needed to make sure that her heart was strong enough for the flight, so my sisters Barbara and Sisi, and my brother-in-law’s family prayed for a positive outcome and anxiously waited for the doctor.
Finally, in the early morning hours before dawn, the doctor walked into the waiting room and asked my brother-in-law to step into the ICU unit. My brother-in-law asked me and the priest who presided over his and Patty’s wedding many years earlier to join him and the doctor. Once in the wide and antiseptic hallway of the ICU unit, the doctor, in a straightforward and unemotional manner, told my brother-in-law that Patty’s heart had weakened to the point of failure and that she would die within the hour.
As my brother-in-law sobbed and pounded his fists against the wall in grief, I stood by dazed and numb, and my mind started to spin trying to find answers in the confusion. Patty had been in great shape, she ate well, rarely stressed about anything, and she died of a bad heart. A few days later, I was given the honor to speak at her memorial service where I described her fighting spirit and her total devotion to her husband and her only son Matt, while my mind swirled about my own mortality.
At just thirty-nine years of age, I intensified the urgency I had placed on myself to achieve redemption by accepting the invitation to participate in the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum and working longer hours. I was excited about starting the program and moving forward after the stunning death of my sister, but 2003 ended on the same tragic note when my mom died of a blood infection after battling kidney failure for several years.
Once again, I found myself at the podium delivering a eulogy for a woman I loved while my mind raced about the ticking clock that foretold the end of my time. While my sister’s sudden death was startling and forced me to think about my health, my mom’s passing was devastating. She had been the glue that kept everything together. Her unconditional love kept me afloat during the darkest of times. I was sad, scared, and not sure how I would get through the tough times that were sure to come.
In addition to the emotional pain, my mom had named me the trustee of her living trust and I felt a deep sense of obligation to get it right. Hearing my dad’s voice advising that working hard was the best my way to get through sorrow, I developed a laser focus on my career and on settling my parents’ estate. On top of meeting daily responsibilities as director of government affairs for Comcast in the South Bay Area, for the next ten months I traveled frequently to Philadelphia for the Executive Leadership Forum.
My work schedule was grueling with regular trips to Sacramento and Washington, D.C, in addition to stops around the country as Comcast’s representative at national Latino political gatherings. The grinding schedule kept my mind off of the huge void left by my mom. What few hours I had left in the day would be spent with Sandra and the girls. If I was in town, I would have dinner at home before heading out to an evening event, and when on the road, I would call Sandra and the girls just before bedtime to say good night.
Sandra began expressing concerns about how hard I was driving myself. If I wasn’t careful, she warned, my family history of heart disease would catch up to me. Rather than taking that warning as a sign to slow down, I drove myself harder rationalizing that the clock was ticking and my window for redemption and success was closing fast. In September of 2004, after a long week of business in southern California, I found myself short of breath while trotting up a flight of stairs at the Long Beach convention center. At the top of the steps I was able to compose myself, and a few minutes later, the sensation disappeared.
Blogger’s note: This is the 22nd installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
Losing that second campaign for school board didn’t diminish my ambition or my hopes of winning election. Two years later, I decided to run for the city council. I had earned some name recognition with voters during the school board campaigns and my professional profile improved with my position in the business world. The only person who stood in the way was a high school board member who was the scion of a political family whose father had served in the California state legislature for two decades.
In the spring primary election, each of us defeated two other opponents to earn spots on the general election ballot in November. Primary election night would be the highlight of my electoral political career as I gave a victory speech, with three-year-old Erica in my arms, in a packed campaign office, to the cheers of my family, friends and supporters.
I started the fall campaign trailing badly in the polls, so with the support of a small cohort of extended family and friends, the campaign team was essentially a family affair. The Peralta girls and Miguel walked precincts every weekend and called voters every night asking them to vote for me. My mom and Mrs. Peralta shared phone bank duties as well. Pancho, Eddie, Will, and Rudy fanned out throughout the district posting campaign signs on supporters’ yards and along major roadways.
Even Marisa, just five years old, walked door-to-door campaigning with me, her infectious smile confidently persuading people on their front porches to vote for her daddy. After a long and vigorous campaign, I couldn’t overcome my opponent’s well-known name and well-financed campaign machine. The returns on election night proved to seal my third electoral loss in six years. I was devastated as I addressed supporters in a crowded room at a local restaurant to thank them on my family’s behalf.
As people gathered around me with tears and hugs, I felt something tugging at the bottom of my sweater and looked down to see Marisa looking up at me with teary eyes saying, “Daddy, I’m sorry you lost, but I’m kind of happy because we could have you back now.” The next morning, I woke up after just a few hours of sleep with my political dreams smoldering in the ashes of failure. Despite the fact that my political career was over, the ambition to succeed and erase the demons of the past with a focused urgency hadn’t gone away.
I was committed to putting all of that energy into spending time with my family and building a career as a corporate executive. As it turned out, I spent more time chasing the elusive concept of success than I did enjoying my family. I wanted to be a good husband and father, and I loved being with Sandra and the girls, so I made sure that I was home for dinner every night I was in town and available for as many school events and family events as possible.
For several years I coached Erica’s little league teams, but it wasn’t unusual to hear the kids shout, “Coach García is wearing a suit again,” because I would have to run out right after practice to be on time to my first meeting for the evening. Despite my efforts to be a fully engaged father, my professional ambitions took the lion’s share of my time.
When Comcast acquired the local cable company as part of a nationwide eighty billion dollar transaction, I was now working for a major American corporation with countless opportunities for those who wanted to get ahead. During a tour of Comcast facilities in San Jose, the new senior vice president for the California region stepped into my sparse office, asked about my background, my family, and my plans for the future. I filled him in with the basics about Sandra and the girls, my career up to that point, and boldly proclaimed that I wanted to be a vice president someday soon.
Over the next several months, the senior VP called on me to lead selected projects in the regional government affairs department, which I accepted without hesitation. Although these special projects required me to be away from the office often, my direct supervisor was supportive of my ambitions and allowed me the time needed to be away. I was making much progress in my climb up the corporate ladder when I became close friends with a colleague at the corporate office in Philadelphia.
He was a bright executive forging his own way up the organizational chart. We had much in common: we were both in our 30s, we both had our eyes on higher executive positions, we both had the same philosophy on government relations, and we both were persons of color. He asked me to help at the national level when a local elected official from California with whom I had a strong working relationship was appointed to the telecommunications public policy committee of the most influential municipal advocacy group in the nation.
With me and my colleague representing Comcast, we co-hosted a dinner with the California official in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the telecom committee members. Just like that, I became familiar to executives at corporate headquarters as a valued representative of the company, especially with Latino political organizations. Before long, I was in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Santa Fe, and San Juan, Puerto Rico representing Comcast at national meetings of Latino public policymakers.
Blogger’s note: This is the 21st installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
I also began to face challenges in my professional life. In 1996, I worked around the clock managing the supervisor’s campaign. It was so consuming that when we celebrated Marisa’s second birthday at a pizza parlor, I stayed for just thirty minutes only to return to the campaign office because Election Day was just six days away. It also became clear that my decision to pursue a career in elective politics severely compromised my day job. Later that spring, I left the supervisor’s office for a failing non-profit organization that dissolved seven months later.
At home the night Erica was born provides a snapshot of that trying time. While Sandra and the baby slept at the hospital in preparation to come home the next day, three-year-old Marisa and I sat alone in the virtually empty family room of our newly purchased house watching television. While she was enjoying the quality time with her daddy, my mind wandered thinking about of being unemployed soon with a mortgage we could barely afford, worried about how I was going to provide for my family, and how I was going to pursue my professional dreams under such challenging circumstances.
With the impending collapse of the non-profit corporation nearing its endgame, I would scour the newspaper for job opportunities every day. Once again, fate stepped in. One Sunday morning while Sandra and the girls were still asleep, I stumbled upon a rare job announcement for a government affairs manager at the local cable company. Government affairs departments are unique to industries that are regulated by federal, state, and local governments.
The role of a government affairs department is to develop and maintain relationships with elected and government officials to educate them to provide an opportunity for that company or industry to influence public policy that is beneficial to its business interests. Usually, these types of job opportunities are shared by word of mouth with those who work in the political sector, so it’s unusual for a company to place an ad in the newspaper. I applied for the job and called on all of the politicians and community leaders with whom I had developed strong working relationships to send letters and make phone calls to the cable company.
The work ethic I learned from my parents, the urgency that drove me since my dad’s passing and my mom’s heart attack, and the opportunity to right the wrongs of my past motivated me to prepare obsessively for the job interview. Well prepared, I drove to the interview early so I would be relaxed and confident for the meeting, only to get lost in an unfamiliar part of the valley. Those were the days before auto navigators and GPS devices, so I found myself driving up to gas stations and other drivers stopped at traffic lights to ask for directions as the clocked ticked ever so close to the scheduled interview time.
My heart pounded at the thought of missing this opportunity and watching failure rear its ugly head again. Speeding through the maze of streets lined with the same looking, low lying concrete Silicon Valley research and development “tilt-up” buildings, I finally made it to my destination with just a few minutes to spare. I walked into the lobby nervous and anxious, wiping sweat off my brow and composing myself to look presentable. Wearing my best suit, I walked confidently into the office to start the meeting.
I dazzled them at the interview and I was invited to meet executives at the division office in Walnut Creek, more than an hour away, a few days later. I was nervous and excited to meet corporate executives, something I never would have thought was possible just a few years earlier. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I arrived in Walnut Creek more than an hour early. The meetings went well and I got the job. My life would never be the same.
Working at the cable company was a great experience. I strengthened my relationships in the political community, learned about working in a corporate environment, had an office all my own, and shared an assistant with my boss. I also visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. Managers at my level rarely had the opportunity to represent the company in Washington, but my solid relationships with a few members of Congress led to the invitation by our department’s vice president.
When I arrived early that January evening, a light snow was falling and the lighted monuments and U.S. Capitol made the city glow majestically. That night, I went out into the freezing rain to see the Lincoln Memorial. I shivered while walking up the steps to the enormous statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair looking across the Mall toward the Capitol Building. The statue took my breath away.
I turned and looked to see what Lincoln was seeing and stood motionless as I gazed at the iconic Washington Monument and Korean War Memorial shimmering in white as the rain gave them a shiny finish. I couldn’t believe that I was there, a boy from the east side who failed in college and found his way back, standing in center of the free world. I returned to Washington several times a year over the next 10 years and never lost the excitement and inspiration our nation’s capital gave me that first night.
My career in the corporate world was progressing nicely as I was promoted to director within two years. Still, my hunger for political success grew even stronger. In 1998, for a second time, I ran for a seat on the elementary school board against three longtime incumbents. Sandra, her parents and sisters, and my brothers-in-law formed the heart of the campaign. We learned a lot from the last election and had a well-organized operation. When I walked door-to-door asking people to vote for me, many had remembered me from the 1996 campaign. On Election Day, hopes were high. By the end of the night, I lost again by a slim margin.
Before completing college and before Sandra and I decided to have a family, I threw the original plan of earning a teaching credential to the wayside, which would have taken another three semesters. With my dream of becoming a teacher subservient to my need to begin a career, I felt that I had lost too much time during the years I had stumbled through life trying to soothe the pain of my failures. Not sure what a twenty-nine year old college graduate with a history degree could do other than teach high school history, I wondered what direction to pursue and where the opportunities may be.
Then fate stepped in. During the spring before graduation, Sandra and I were visiting her parents on a Saturday afternoon when a friend from college, Damian Trujillo, called to invite me to the 25th anniversary celebration for a local job training program. Damian was determined, hard-working, and ambitious; he worked part-time at KSJS, the San Jose State radio station, and dreamed of becoming a television reporter.
I had taken some Mexican American Studies classes with Damian and we became friends when we worked together on the planning committee of a national academic conference the Mexican American Studies Department hosted at San Jose State. It was the first time I was part of a team that developed and produced a large conference that attracted people from throughout the country. Today, Damian is recognized as one of the most respected and well-known newsman in the valley.
The featured speaker at the job training center anniversary event would be Cesar Chavez, the great labor leader and civil rights icon who found the United Farm Workers of America. Sandra encouraged me to go because her advisor in high school, George Shirakawa, Sr., was a city councilman who probably would be at the event and might be willing to advise me about getting a job at the city if I told him that I was married her.
With nothing to wear, my old suits didn’t fit anymore and we didn’t have money or time to get a new one, I called Rudy and borrowed his only suit. Years later, at an event I had invited him to attend where he wore a perfectly tailored blue business suit, he would recount that I taught him that every man must always have at least one suit, just in case one was needed. Looking very much the politician in Rudy’s black suit with white shirt and red tie, I headed to downtown San Jose with Damian to attend the first political event of my life.
The celebration, held in San Jose’s cavernous convention center’s main hall, was attended by the valley’s political glitterati. Feeling absolutely natural in that environment, I moved about the hall effortlessly introducing myself to everyone who looked familiar from television news and newspaper stories: the valley’s congressional representative, state legislators, a future San Jose mayor, and a city councilwoman who was the grand dame of Latino politics in Silicon Valley.
I even approached Cesar Chavez himself and extended my hand in introduction. During the few seconds I spent shaking Chavez’s hand and exchanging cordial salutations, I saw the powerful yet humble determination in his eyes that made him a national civil rights hero. Even though it was clear to see that these politicians would forget our interaction the second I walked away, I was instantly mesmerized by politics that night.
Toward the end of the evening, I finally saw the prize, the reason I decided to accept Damian’s last-minute invitation, Councilman George Shirakawa, Sr. He was walking quickly through the crowd with a small entourage that included his son George, a local school board trustee. Mr. Shirakawa was an admired teacher and counselor before entering politics, and George, Jr. was a popular high school athlete before his election to the school board. Together there were revered in their part of town in south central San Jose.
I stepped in Mr. Shirakawa’s path, jutted out my hand, and introduced myself. He was a husky, gregarious man with a beaming smile, a booming voice, and a personality that filled the spacious hall. He was a wearing a black tuxedo with a colorful matching vest and bow tie. With the same distant look in his eyes as the other politicians I met, he shook my hand, said hello, and began to continue his march through the hall.
When I told him that I was married to Sandra Peralta, he stopped in his tracks, smiled even bigger, and in that commanding voice told me that if I was married to “Sandy Peralta,” I must be a good man. He then handed me his business card, directed me to call his office on Monday, and disappeared into the crowd.
Sandra and I rented a small one bedroom apartment in the east foothills, not far from Alum Rock Park and the expensive houses up the hill. She was in her first year as an elementary school teacher and I taught Spanish to pre-school kids at a private elementary school/day care center. It was a job that didn’t require a college degree and paid next to nothing. I also coached basketball at City College and made extra money tutoring the basketball players. We were able to scrape by financially and married life was treating me well.
For the first time since I was a teenager I felt a sense of accomplishment and stability, this time without the brashness and bravado of one of the big men on campus. Soon after the basketball season ended, Sandra and I made the decision that I should return to San Jose State on a full-time basis and put my career as a basketball coach on hold until I earned my bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.
I had been taking courses at State here and there for a couple of years to meet reinstatement eligibility to the university and to remove the academic disqualification from my record, so I was ready to submit an application for acceptance. When a letter from San Jose State arrived in the mail, I anxiously opened the envelope, read the letter, and let out a huge sigh of relief. My failed academic record had been cleared, and I was officially a college student once again.
The next day, a Saturday, Eddie Velez and I were working on a side job with Mr. Peralta replacing sidewalks at an apartment complex, but I wasn’t participating in the usual banter about sports, politics, the weather, and the aches and pains that come with construction work. My mind was spinning with thoughts about my past failures, my new opportunity, and my second, and perhaps, last chance to redeem myself by earning a college degree and pursuing my dream of being a teacher and a coach. Right then and there, I decided that I would work harder than ever in college to stay focused on the prize.
Because the acceptance letter arrived just days before classes were to begin, I had to sit in on the classes I wanted to secure a space before I could actually register. It would be a tedious process that required patience and perseverance. With a determination I never had before, I sat in class after class, cajoled professors to allow me to stay, and registered for a full load of classes to qualify as a full-time student. I threw myself into my schoolwork, finishing projects, writing papers, and completing reading assignments ahead of schedule.
Early that first semester, I ran into a mental roadblock that could have compromised the entire effort; I realized that I was almost ten years older than my classmates in first year general education courses. I started to doubt myself, I questioned my decision to drop everything to return to school, and I felt out of place as a weathered twenty-seven year old man among bright, young, and eager college students.
I shared these sentiments with a professor, Dr. Randall Jimenez, with whom I had developed a good relationship in his freshman communications course. He told me that I had a natural talent for public speaking and using words to persuade and lead others. Then he asked me how old I was and when did I anticipate on finishing my degree, and I responded that I hoped to graduate by my thirtieth birthday. He said with good health and God’s will I would be thirty years old, so I had to decide whether I wanted to be thirty years old with a college degree or thirty years old without one; the choice was mine and mine alone.
From that day on I had a laser focus toward achieving success at the highest level possible, as a student and in my future career as an educator and basketball coach. To help Sandra with living expenses, I spent the next three years tutoring freshman for the professor’s public speaking courses. I ran into Dr. Jimenez two decades later, and with a bear hug and heartfelt smile, he mentioned how happy he was to see me, and that he had followed my career and medical problems in the newspaper.
I reminded him of and thanked him for the wise words he imparted on me that day early in my return to college. He thanked me for listening because he knew that I would use my gift for public speaking to make an impact in people’s lives. His wise advice twenty-one years before sent my college career and the professional life that was to follow into high gear.
For the next three years, I was a full-time student and part-time homemaker. After that first semester, I met with an advisor on campus, selected history as my major, and mapped out the schedule of classes I would need to graduate by the time I was thirty years old. At home, in between reading and writing assignments, I washed clothes, kept our little apartment clean, and experimented making different meals so dinner would be ready when Sandra got home from a long day with her students.
More often than not, my experiments would go badly and we would end up at one of the mom and pop restaurants or fast food joints that dotted our new neighborhood. In addition to my studies and tutoring for the professor’s public speaking courses, I worked as a referee for intramural sports at San Jose State and tutored a neighborhood kid to further supplement Sandra’s teaching salary. I was absolutely dedicated to my studies, devouring books faster than professors could assign them; reading in the laundry room at our apartment complex or at the kitchen counter while preparing another disastrous meal.
Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 1st excerpt from Chapter 2: “Sandra Peralta.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
When I started working at Kinney’s again, a friend named Sammy Ybarra, who I met through a high school friend years before, asked me be his assistant coach for the eighth grade boys basketball team at his elementary school alma mater, a Catholic school in his neighborhood. He and I became good friends, and I later served as a chaperone at his wedding. I excitedly accepted his invitation to help coach the team.
We had a blast, and the next year, the school asked me to be the head coach for the boys’ sixth grade basketball team. I poured all of my energy into coaching that team, and we won all of our games except the championship game at the end of the season. The kids, parents, and school community loved me, and working with the boys gave me a glimmer of hope that I could succeed at something.
Although the carousing, drinking, and chasing women continued, I began to think that there was a way out of the mess I had created for myself, and getting back into college was the key. Later that spring, school officials asked me to coach the eighth grade baseball team, and I took on that job with the same gusto. During the day and on weekends, I was peddling shoes; and in the afternoon during the week I was coaching a Catholic school baseball team at Welch Park in east San Jose.
At night, I was hitting the town causing mischief and feeling a little less inadequate, but not by much. One day, while hitting ground balls at practice, I noticed a shiny car slowly rolling down Santiago Avenue, the roadway that ran between Welch Park and the row of houses across the street. The driver of that silver 1984 Firebird turning left onto the driveway at the house right across the street from home plate would forever change my life.
Right across the street from home plate on the baseball diamond at Welch Park lived a beautiful young woman. Every day, I would stop practice to the merriment of the thirteen and fourteen year old boys as she drove up to her house. I would watch her gather her belongings from the car, sling her backpack over one shoulder, and sip a soda as she walked into the garage that led to the house. Day in and day out every afternoon, like clockwork, she would turn onto the driveway in her silver Firebird and I would stop practice to watch her routine to the chuckles and giddiness of the team.
After a week or so, the mischievous boys dared me to walk across the street and ask her out on a date, so I took on their challenge the next day as she drove up in a brown Mazda similar to one owned by another young woman I knew. This was my chance, so I casually jogged across the street pretending that she was the other girl and shouted, “hi Clarabelle.” As I approached her in the garage of the house, I finally had the chance to see her close up. She took my breath away.
She had smooth fair skin, high cheekbones, long flowing brown hair combed in the 1980s style of the day, big brown doe eyes, and cute lips that curled just slightly at the top. With confident reserve, she said, “I’m not Clarabelle, my name is Sandra.” I apologized for mistaking her for someone else and nervously introduced myself. I shuffled my feet without taking my eyes off of her eyes, mumbled several things I don’t remember, apologized again, and started jogging back to the park. She left me speechless, and I didn’t have the courage to ask her out, even though that’s not what I told my players.
During the next several weeks, the kids on the team kept asking if I had gone out on a date with Sandra and I told them with authority that a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell. Of course, there were no kisses and nothing to tell. Every afternoon when she slipped out of her car, I would wave my hand to say hello in an effort to catch her attention, but I don’t remember if she ever waved back. When the baseball season ended I had no reason to go back to Welch Park, so I kicked myself for not getting Sandra’s number and letting an opportunity to slip through my fingers.
Next Wednesday: Fate gives me another chance to meet Sandra.
For those who believe that they alone hold the keys to their own destiny, God sure has a funny way of teaching life lessons. Due to self-perceived shortcomings, I deemed myself a complete failure by the time I was 22 years old. With an obsession to excel and a naive quest for redemption, I fought my failure demons for more than two decades working endlessly in my elusive pursuit to find success.
Thinking I had almost conquered the demons, I had a massive heart attack on June 7, 2010. Ten days later, cardiac arrest caused my heart to stop, and ten days after that, I had an allergic reaction that led to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a potentially fatal lung condition that affects just 150,000 people per year according to the ARDS Foundation. To treat ARDS, doctors medically induced me into a coma and put me on full life support.
Emerging from the coma, I had to learn how to move my limbs, stand, walk, talk, and swallow all over again. On September 21, 2010, 106 days after the June 7th heart attack, I went home. During my long and difficult recovery and rehabilitation, I had hours and hours to think about mortality, God, faith, and the meaning of love, family, friends, and redemption.
Doctors told me that surviving three life-threatening episodes in one summer is a miracle and encouraged me to write about the experience. With that in mind, I interviewed family, friends, and the medical team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center. What resulted is a 200-page manuscript I named, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.
It’s the unique and inspiring story of a boy who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, failed at college and lost hope, met and married the love of his life, returned to finish college, raised a family, and built a career in corporate America and public service. It’s also the story of a man who vowed never to fail again and toiled tirelessly trying to redeem himself, only to find true redemption while in a state of complete helplessness in the ICU.
To share this story, beginning this Wednesday, East Side Eddie Report.com will add a new feature posting weekly excerpts from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. My dream is to someday publish the manuscript as a book, so please let me know what you think. Also, if you like the story, please share the Wednesday posts with your family and friends.
I truly appreciate you taking the time to read East Side Eddie Report.com each Monday. I hope the posts are interesting and look forward to Summer in the Waiting Room bringing you back every Wednesday too. If you have any suggestions or comments, please send them along.